Between doughnuts, flash-frozen nitro ice cream, s’mores everything and over-the-top milkshakes, you may have thought you had reached dessert-trend nirvana.
Now, meet the bubble waffle.
Inspired by a Hong Kong street food known as gai daan jai, this confection is continuing to make inroads around Washington, the country and other parts of the world, much to the delight of Asian expats, experienced travelers and sweet tooths.
Instead of a Belgian waffle’s grid, a bubble waffle, or egg waffle, consists of an interconnected hive of spheres. Think bubble wrap, but edible (and much less noisy).
Tiger Fork executive chef Irvin Van Oordt initially tried bubble waffles when he lived in Singapore and then sampled more the first time he went to Hong Kong a few years ago. There, the waffles are eaten on the go, served plain or very simply adorned, such as with condensed milk.
“It was awesome,” Van Oordt said. “I fell in love with it.”
He needed to up the ante for the Hong Kong-inspired restaurant, which recently opened in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood. So Tiger Fork’s bubble waffles (cooked to order in two special irons) are shaped into a cone and served with green curry ice cream, Pocky sticks, burnt coconut cream, cajeta (caramelized goat’s milk) and two types of sprinkles.
In other words, a long way from its post-World War II origins. As one tale goes, the bubble waffle was the creation of a thrifty vendor looking to do something with cracked eggs that could not be used otherwise. The eggs, plus a custard powder incorporated into the batter, make for a waffle that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. In Hong Kong, you’ll often see the batter cooked in pans with the trademark spherical indentations held over an open flame.
Elsewhere around Washington, you’ll find the treat (with or without ice cream) at Snowbots in Rockville. Eggloo in New York specializes in the cones, and recently in London, a new shop, called Bubblewrap, drew around-the-block lines of eager diners.
Desiree Le knows the feeling. She and her Chinese-born partner, Terence Lioe, were looking for a “special vessel” when they opened Cauldron Ice Cream in Santa Ana, Calif., in 2015, and given Lioe’s childhood eating bubble waffles, they seemed like a natural fit.
Customers, and the Internet, went bonkers. “I think it’s pretty novel,” Le said. “A lot of people have never tried anything like that before.” Plus, “it’s pretty picture-worthy.”
“We didn’t really do any marketing for it,” Le said about the “puffle” cone, which is available in such flavors as churro and red velvet. “It marketed itself.”
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